Slaughterhouse cleaning company hired minors who worked in two Arkansas factories, Labor Department says

FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2006, file photo, a car passes in front of a Tyson Foods Inc., sign at Tyson headquarters in Springdale.

A national company that cleans meatpacking plants violated child labor laws when servicing a George's Inc. facility in Batesville and Tyson Foods plants in Green Forest and Goodlettsville, Tenn., the U.S. Labor Department said.

Packers Sanitation Services Inc. was ordered to pay more than $1.5 million in penalties after a Labor Department investigation found the company had employed children from ages 13 to 17 to do hazardous work at 13 meatpacking plants in eight states.

None of the plants themselves were fined or charged.

Investigators found that Packers Sanitation Services employed four minors at George's Batesville plant. The cleaning company was fined $60,552 for that violation.

At Tyson Foods Inc.'s operations in Green Forest, investigators found Packers Sanitation Services employed six minors, leading to a $90,828 fine.

Investigators also found that the sanitation services company employed one minor at Tyson's Goodlettsville plant, for which Packers Sanitation Services was fined $15,138.

Neither George's nor Tyson Foods immediately returned a phone message Monday.

Packers Sanitation Services' biggest violation was at a JBS Foods plant in Grand Isle, Neb. The employment of 27 minors there led to a fine of $408,726.

A Cargill Inc. plant in Dodge City, Kan., had the second biggest violation with the cleaning company employing 26 minors there. That cost Packers Sanitation Services a $393,588 fine.

In all, the plant cleaning company paid $1,544,076 in civil penalties. The payment was made Thursday.

The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, which began the investigation in August, learned that Packers Sanitation Services employed at least 102 children.

The teens worked overnight shifts using hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment including back saws, brisket saws and head splitters, investigators found.

At least three children were injured while working for Packers Sanitation Services, they found.

"No child should ever be subject to the conditions found in this violation," said Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda.

The child labor violations in this case were systemic "and clearly indicate a corporate-wide failure by Packers Sanitation Services at all levels," said Jessica Looman, the principal deputy administrator of the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division.

"These children should never have been employed in meatpacking plants and this can only happen when employers do not take responsibility to prevent child labor violations from occurring in the first place," Looman said.

Labor Department officials said in court documents revealed in November that they believed Packers Sanitation Services was employing teenagers who were working through the middle of the night sanitizing slaughterhouses before heading back to school in the morning.

A Tyson spokesman in November told The Associated Press that the company was aware of the allegations against Packers Sanitation Services and was cooperating with investigators. The spokesman said Tyson expects its suppliers to follow the same labor laws it does to make sure minors aren't hired.